His divorce finalized, Larry (Larry David) continues his curmudgeonly ways.
I went into this with a bit of trepidation. Prior to watching this season, my only exposure to Curb Your Enthusiasm had come during a sleepy viewing late one night; I fell asleep with the television on, woke up a couple hours later to find an episode playing. I wasnít exactly enamored of what I saw; from what I remember, it looked to be nothing more than Larry David yelling at someone, upset about a parking space or something. I watched a couple minutes, turned it off, forget about it. Given what an underwhelming experience that was--for years Iíd been listening to people talk about the showís greatness, which I simply didnít see--I couldnít imagine sitting through an entire season.
So what happened when I sat down with this set? I liked the show. I wasnít bowled over by it, and some of what bothered me about those couple minutes I caught in that syndicated episode once again bothered me, but I laughed--a lot, in fact. I have a hard time understanding exactly why the show has received the level of acclaim it has; itís good, but itís not great (although Iím basing that opinion solely on this one season, of course; I canít comment on the quality of other years). It connects more often than it misses, but those misses tend to be big ones, airing out the stadium. But the laughs it supplies are of considerable size and intensity, and thatís really all that matters.
The show is heavily improvised. David and his co-writers (Seinfeld veterans Alec Berg, David Mandel, and Jeff Schaffer are credited with helping David concoct the stories for all of this seasonís episodes; David received sole credit in previous seasons) come up with a plot; the actors then improvise dialogue within the context of that plot. Like most improvised offerings, not everything here is gold.
But because David has surrounded himself with old pros at this sort of thing--Jeff Garlin, J.B. Smoove, Susie Essman, Richard Lewis, Bob ďSuper DaveĒ Einstein, Michael McKean--a lot of it works. The show allows them to be as nasty and vulgar as they want to be, allows them to say just about anything that pops into their head, and they run with it. (McKean has the best line of the season. He screws up the reference heís making, but itís so unexpected, arcane, and funny that I canít fault him.)
Itís a good thing so much of the dialogue is funny. If Seinfeld was about nothing, Curb is about less-than-nothing. Not a whole lot of a hell happens here. If you havenít seen the show but are familiar with Davidís personality, you can guess how things go. Larry has an uncanny ability to deconstruct the behavior of those around here, but heís either oblivious to his own failings or simply doesnít give a damn (I think itís a bit of the former and a lot of the latter), and watching him attempt to deal with the nonsense of everyday life is something of a trip. This is the last guy a hapless girl would want to be around when she unexpectedly gets her first period, but thatís exactly what happens in the first episode of this season.
Other plots involve Larry attempting to get out a speaking engagement, Larry purchasing a questionable gift for a young boy, Larry ruining two marriages, Larry betraying his people by frequenting a Palestinian restaurant, Larry competing for the love of a bisexual woman, Larry ruining a good thing Lewis has going, Larry arguing over cabinet space in his office building, and Larry drawing the wrath of New York by insulting Michael J. Fox. Not that any of it matters. Each episode is contrived to put Larry into a situation and allow him to react. What happens isnít as important as the way Larry reacts to whatís happening.
There are a couple episodes where what does happen is important, though. Itís probably no surprise that theyíre the weakest. One episode has Larry and Garlinís character looking to invest in a car periscope. The two peripheral subplots involve Larry losing his person trainer to Wanda Sykes and an old man whose dementia has uncovered his buried prejudices. Thereís a clever moment where some of this is tied together in a funny way, but most of the episode is just awful. Itís labored, slow, unfunny, and relies on far too many (unsuccessful) nods to The Fugitive. Also, the thing about the car periscope was a throwaway bit on Seinfeld; watch it unfold here and youíll realize why it was nothing more than a throwaway bit.
The penultimate episode flashes back to an embarrassing incident from Larryís teen years, revealing why he has an unfortunate, Pavlovian response to the Mister Softee jingle. It doesnít work at all. The central plot doesnít work, nor does a bit in which Larryís new girlfriend receives sexual gratification from the passenger seat of his car. I donít think I laughed once during the entire episode. Going from laughing a lot to not laughing at all is a big switch. One awful episode--or one awful and one not-quite-as awful episode--out of an otherwise solid ten may seem like a good ratio, but this oneís awful enough to be a big blotch on the season as a whole.
It was only a matter of time, I suppose, before David ran out of ideas and/or started repeating himself. Itís no secret he was the wellspring of ideas during the years he worked on Seinfeld, coming up with plots with wild abandon, reworking scripts written by others, and finding ways to make any given episodeís disparate storylines come together in a genius way (such as tying together the beached whale with Kramer hitting golf balls on the beach, which was reportedly a last-minute fix). I donít think anyone can work at such a high level forever; there has to be an inevitable downturn. Again, though, Iím coming at this fresh. Itís possible longtime viewers will cut the show more slack, ignoring the flaws out of an overall love. Ií, guilty of doing the same for shows I enjoy (Scrubs being a good example). But its missteps arenít killers; itís still a damned funny show.
The series is presented in its original 1.78:1 aspect ratio (the show finally made the switch from 1.33:1 for its seventh season); the seasonís ten episodes are housed on two discs (seven on one, the reaming three and the bonus features on the other). As expected, the showís shot digitally, and it looks good, never devolving into a harsh, unnatural, or plastic appearance. The visual style is completely free of any sort of affectations; aside from a hint of softness here and there (a byproduct of the digital photography and nothing-special lighting), thereís nothing noteworthy or out-of-the-norm. But it gets the job done, so why carp?
The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio (in English and French options) isnít asked to do much, but it does what little itís asked to do well. Most of the mix is dialogue, and it sounds fine. Music (of which thereís not a whole lot) gets spread to the rears on a couple occasions, but for the most part the audio stays locked in the front channels. English, French, and Spanish subtitles are available.
Leonís Guide to NYC (10 minutes) is footage of Smoove goofing off while walking around New York City.
You also get what is dubbed a roundtable discussion (90 minutes) but is in fact more of a panel discussion (thereís no table, much less a round one). Brian Williams moderates a chat in which David, Garlin, Essman, and former costar Cheryl Hines discuss the series.
Iím not ready to jump on the bandwagon of unadulterated praise, but Iím definitely down with the funny.